Worlds at War

  • by Anthony Pagden
  • Narrated by John Lee
  • 20 hrs and 35 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In the tradition of Jared Diamond and Jacques Barzun, prize-winning historian Anthony Pagden presents a sweeping history of the long struggle between East and West, from the Greeks to the present day.The relationship between East and West has always been one of turmoil. In this historical tour de force, a renowned historian leads us from the world of classical antiquity, through the Dark Ages, to the Crusades, Europe's resurgence, and the dominance of the Ottoman Empire, which almost shattered Europe entirely. Pagden travels from Napoleon in Egypt to Europe's carving up of the finally moribund Ottomans - creating the modern Middle East along the way - and on to the present struggles in Iraq.Throughout, we learn a tremendous amount about what "East" and "West" were and are, and how it has always been competing worldviews and psychologies, more than religion or power grabs, that have fed the mistrust and violence between East and West. In Pagden's dark but provocative view, this struggle cannot help but go on.

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What the Critics Say

"An accessible and lucid exploration of the history of the East-West split....Fans of Jacques Barzun and Jared Diamond will be most impressed by Pagden's big picture perspective." (Publishers Weekly)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great story, with a lot of unfamiliar names

This is a great story -- as the cover of the book says, it's the 2500-year history of conflict between East and West. The geographical locations are actually a bit more specific than that: the East is the Middle East (the Persian Empire, the the Safavid Empire, the Ottoman Empire); the West is mostly Western Europe (Greece, Rome, Spain, France, Germany). The history is partly political and military, and partly intellectual: all the great battles are here, but considerable space is also given, for example, to the ideas about "Orientalism" that spread through Europe in the 18th century. The narrative moves rapidly and includes a rich amount of surprising detail.

Then there are the names. One of the strengths of the book is also one of its weaknesses, at least as an audiobook. I've read a lot of world history, but even so I found the book loaded with unfamiliar names, many of them Arabic, French, or Spanish (a good thing, since I was hoping to learn something new); and I found it difficult at times, with John Lee's very posh and precise pronunciation, to visualize the spelling (a bad thing). I discovered in the process that I'm a much more visually-oriented learner than I realized. (I got around the problem by checking the book out of the library and looking stuff up.)

Compared to Pagden's "Peoples and Empires," also available here, this is both longer and more focused: it doesn't try to tell all of world history, just as much as possible about this one aspect of it. John Lee is a great narrator, and it's an absorbing and rewarding listen.
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- Tad Davis

Absorbing, well-researched, not unbiased history

I found this book a fascinating exploration of the long history of conflict between East and West, and the way the powers in charge of each sphere (whether Greek, Trojan, Roman, Persian, Christian, Muslim, French, Ottoman, British, or Arabic) have often seen themselves as inheritors of all the earlier struggles. Of course, it should be noted right away that by ???The East???, Pagden generally means the near and middle east, the lands from Asia Minor to the region that's modern Iran -- China, India, and Japan don???t figure into the book at all. In fact, his focus is really more on the development of the West and its experience with the East than the reverse.

It should also be noted that Pagden has a strong bias towards liberal, secular, democratic values, which he feels are the essence of Western culture (he states as much in the forward). Religion, both Christianity and Islam, are portrayed in a dim light, as institutional obstacles to reason, human rights, and progress. Not that I don???t largely agree with this assessment, but some readers might take offense. Still, he seems to be fair-minded about it, giving Muslim societies credit for brief periods of learning and relative tolerance, and indicting the modern West for its more counterproductive forays into the Middle East, which understandably stoked the fires of Muslim distrust and resentment. Indeed, the final chapter warns, convincingly, of continued bloody conflict between an uncompromising pan-Islamic worldview, whose adherents have enjoyed few of the fruits of the West and see little of their value, and countries like the US, whose leaders naively assume that their own democratic attitudes are universally held, and fail to account for a divide with deep historic roots.

However, I don???t want to place too much emphasis on modern politics, which take a back seat to the fact that this is a comprehensive, well-researched history, outlining many episodes over 2,500 years that I was only dimly aware of (e.g. Napoleon???s adventures in Egypt), and pulling them into a readable, continuous narrative. Especially interesting was reading of the ways in which the West???s often-skewed perception of the East as an "other" to strive against has nonetheless shaped its own attitudes towards freedom, tolerance, and science.
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- Ryan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-21-2008
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio